Wall Street Journal financial writer Karmin places the dollar in the context of international history and finance.
Written in witty reportorial prose, this “biography” traces the American currency’s history from its natal days in the mid-19th century, when paper money was printed by hundreds of private and state banks around the country; through 1971, when President Nixon took the dollar off the gold standard; to the present day, when foreign currencies threaten to upend the dollar’s century-long role as de facto international currency. Karmin structures the book as a series of six vignettes, each of which reads like a long-form magazine feature. From the floor of FX Concepts, a currency-trading hedge fund in New York City, he describes a massive market of traders who deal solely in currencies, not assets. In the bowels of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, he vividly describes the history of paper currency and 200 years of efforts to counterfeit it. On the streets of Ecuador, he tells the story of a country that has adopted the dollar as its official currency, to both good and ill effect. The book ends, as might be expected, on a cautionary note. With a massive trade deficit, growing foreign debt and billions of dollars in the hands of currency speculators abroad ($250 billion in South Korea alone), the dollar could lose its privileged status to an upstart currency like the euro, the Chinese yuan, or both—an outcome that would be, a leading market strategist comments, “the equivalent of instituting a global tax on almost everyone.”
Occasionally repetitive, but a surprisingly entertaining and informative social history of the currency that makes the world economy go round.